Reticulated Flatwoods Salamander no longer a “Show Stopper” for U.S. 98 Alternate

Posted on April 11, 2024 by Romi White

A mole salamander designated as an endangered species previously stopped efforts on a local U.S. 98 alternate route. However, after a population of the reticulated flatwoods salamander was discovered in a nearby area, it’s possible the species could potentially be relocated, allowing progress to resume on a much-needed corridor to relieve congestion on U.S. 98.

“We’re no longer seeing that as a show stopper,” Col. Kristen N. Wood, USAF AFSOC 1 SOMSG/CC told local government officials about the salamander during an April 9 discussion at the Florida-Alabama Transportation Planning Organization meeting, which took place at the Gulf Breeze Community Center.

In addition to a Florosa bypass, Woods said utilizing the back gate of Hurlburt Field is another option available to alleviate U.S. 98 congestion. “We know we’re part of the problem,” she said, adding that the military also wants to be part of the solution for traffic woes.

Wood explained to FL-AL TPO members that around 4,100 base personnel live west of Hurlburt Field. She noted significant concern because part of AFSOC’s three-fold mission is impeded by U.S. 98 traffic congestion, which reduces the ability to quickly mobilize for crisis response and that ground forces are some times needed at a “moment’s notice” and can be delayed until their air support counterparts are deployed.

U.S. 98 congestion is a problem being addressed by TPOs across the region under the Emerald Coast Regional Council (ECRC) umbrella.

“I’ve been working closely with the base on developing an Intelligent Transportation System that will greatly assist the residents of Navarre and our service men and women traversing that corridor,” stated Austin Mount, CEO of ECRC. He also said the “magnitude of impact” of the ITS project will not only save lives but also save citizens money.

Another item on yesterday’s FL-AL TPO agenda was a resolution approving a letter of support for designating the 87 Connector, a planned future road connecting the northern terminus of 87 S with 87 N, as a military access facility. That resolution also proposed designating 87 N as an Strategic Intermodal System facility for improved hurricane evacuation, a move which shifts the project to the state’s “high priority” network of transportation facilities, increasing the odds it will receive more funding, more quickly.